Should I join a Drinking Society?

It’s the question you’ve all been asking. Kamila Kingstone and Lauren Chaplin give freshers their advice.

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Kamila Kingstone: ‘Just avoid them’

The act of swallowing (and then vomiting up) a live goldfish is fortunately not a common occurrence. But this is what Wyverns’ drinking society hopefuls have apparently done, according to that tome of reliable information, the Daily Mail.

If you read about initiation ceremonies for Cambridge drinking societies don’t be surprised if you find bile rising up your throat. I won’t spell it out, for the risk of ruining your tea and crumpets, but I’ll give you the ingredients of one particularly gruesome initiation and you can allow your imagination to run wild:

sheep’s eyeballs
raw squid
wasabi sauce

There. Knock yourself out – which is what will most likely happen if you attempt it.

And this is only the beginning. These are nights out that would once have landed the participants with an ASBO. There hear stories of irreparable damage to restaurants, broken glasses, broken teeth, and somewhat broken reputations. Drinking societies mirror American universities’ worst frat parties, only with plummier accents.

This is not to mention the inherent sexism which pervades these societies. Just take the names: there are the all-female ‘Winston’s Wenches’ of Churchill College, the ‘Strumpettes’ of Clare, and the ‘Gymslips’ of Girton. Compare these to all-male drinking societies; far from having names such as ‘Peter’s Whores’ of Peterhouse, they are known as ‘Patricians’, ‘Lions’, and ‘Squires’. While male drinkers are apparently honourable, women who drink are sluts.

Once you have formed a graphic picture of drinking societies in your mind, you might well recoil in horror and be surprised to find yourself agreeing with the Daily Mail. Drinking societies are disgusting. They are pits of moral filth. Outrageous.

On the other hand, drinking societies are far less widespread than the Daily Mail has outsiders believe. Few of us have ever been approached by a drinking society, and this is because of the counter-intuitive blessing of educational divisions. While many people justifiably complain that ordinary students are blocked out of public school old boys’ clubs, this has one immense advantage. If we assume that most drinking society members are male public schoolers, it’s a blessing that they don’t want to associate with the likes of others. If you want nothing to do with drinking societies, it’s safe to assume that they want nothing to do with you.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, much of the social scene at any university involves drinking to a degree you wouldn’t want to do in front of your grandmother. Swaps and formals, for example, probably involve as much drinking as a Wyverns’ event, but, in the former cases, drunken evenings are disguised as civilised, cultured and/or sport-focussed occasions. We should be grateful that drinking societies are at least honest about their raison d’être. Just as we should be grateful that Aero is honest about the fact that most of its chocolate bar is air.

So drinking societies may be pits of moral filth, but who cares? Just avoid them and they will most certainly avoid you.


Initiations: How low can you go?


Lauren Chaplin: ‘Drinking Societies are fun’

If Kant were to come up with a maxim for all you wonderful Tab readers, it would probably be ‘Never believe anything you read in The Daily Fail, especially if it regards Oxbridge and alcohol’. Obviously I’m biased, because I’m a member of the obnoxious and intoxicated elite causing reckless damage to curry houses all over Cambridge, but it’s a prudent and pithy tip nonetheless.

I’ve visited numerous ‘pits of moral filth’ (Oceana Watford on a Saturday night springs to mind) and honestly, they’re always pretty hilarious. Students, Cantabs or otherwise, make a point of enjoying themselves, and the fact is that drinking societies are fun. If they weren’t, no one would join them. You get to dress up and get wasted on a fine vintage of wine (my personal choice is Sainsbury’s Basic 2012, delectable bouquet) and fine your best friend for that embarrassing moment where they got so battered they wet themselves.

Yes, some initiations are gruesome, but those charming lads and ladettes on the front page of the Daily Mail weren’t forced against their will to chow down on some squid and wasabi based delicacies. They chose to do it, because they valued a drinking society tie over their taste buds. Whilst you personally may never indulge in such madness, everyone is entitled to their own decision. It’s prudent to remember, however, that we shouldn’t tar all societies with the same wasabi covered brush. Most initiations are far milder than the rumours would have you believe. Of course, drinking is involved, but existing members are assigned to responsibly look after the poor initiates when, a slur of words and several chunds later, it all gets too much.

Undeniably, though, all drinking societies deserve an ASBO. That is, if ASBO is short for ‘AsBo-isterous (if not less) than all other students up and down the country’ (yes, not my greatest attempt at wordplay, I am aware. Alternative ASBO pun suggestions welcomed). So a few glasses get smashed here and there. Often it’s not intentional and reparations are always made.

A final point; DRINKING SOCIETIES ARE NOT FASCIST ORGANISATIONS (couldn’t think of a more linguistically subtle way to convey this, sorry). We get drunk at swaps, not beer hall putsch’s. No one is forced to join, no one is forced to endure initiations, and personally, I’ve never really noticed this ‘inherent sexism’. Maybe it’s because I’ve been brainwashed by the misogynistic Lions and Squires. Or maybe it’s because all my friends are feminists, and if we wanted to change our society name, we could have a mature discussion and rebrand. But we don’t. Because for the same reason I don’t mind if my best friend jokingly calls me a slut, I also don’t mind associating myself with the Gymslips. Would a rose be as sexist by any other name? Probably not, but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Girton Gymslips or Girton Greers? Sidney SLAGS or Sidney Suffragettes? Caitlin Moran stormed ahead with reclaiming the word ‘cunt’, so who’s to say we can’t do the same? Perhaps, drinking societies are a covert way of releasing fourth wave feminism unto Cambridge! Imagine! You can get fucked with the Patricians and fuck the patriarchy at the same time. Brilliant. CUSU Women’s Campaign are probably seething they didn’t come up with it first.